Rising above Mt. Torafusu lies the architectural beauty Wayama Castle. Travel southeast and cherry blossoms engulf Kimiidera, a temple overlooking the sea on one side and the town on the other. All of this one hour away from Osaka, making Wakayama the perfect spring day trip.
The gates to an underestimated prefecture
Wakayama Castle was originally built in 1585 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi who successfully unified Japan after the death of Oda Nobunaga a few years earlier, and who also initiated invasions into the Korean Peninsula. The castle’s main purpose was to strengthen the warlord’s hold over the southern region of Kansai and command the Kii Peninsula. The construction was supervised by Hideyoshi’s younger brother Hidenaga and designed by Takatora Todo. Todo had humble beginnings as an ashigaru, a foot soldier, before gaining recognition as a excellent castle architect. In about 50 years he designed dozens of castles, including the famous Osaka Castle and Nijo Castle in Kyoto.
When the Tokugawa clan took over control of Japan, they acquired Wakayama Castle too which they kept until the Meiji Restoration. While the castle was not abandoned entirely, it did lose importance. In 1945, a bombing raid over the area and its consequent raging fires destroyed the castle.
Today’s reconstruction, however, still does well in upholding its traditional look and feel. The castle’s central tower exhibits a few dozen weapons and armor worn by samurai warriors during the Edo period. One of the castle’s most unique, yet not easily spotted, features is the Ohashi Roka Bridge. During the Edo Period the covered bridge served as a corridor for the castle lord, his guests and servants to move from the outer sections of the castle to the Momijidani Garden within its grounds. After going down the steep slope of the bridge, you too can enter the garden commissioned in the 17th century by Yorinobu Tokugawa. Its small pond, waterfall and surrounding trees make it particularly beautiful in autumn as the leaves change their colors.
Overall, Wakayama Castle is a very interesting stop as you explore the very much underestimated prefecture. Its connection with famous warlords and architects alike give a sense of deep history and intrigue.
If you happen to visit Wakayama in spring and wish to enjoy some early-flowering cherry blossoms as well as stunning views over the town and coastline, Kimiidera Temple should be your stop after visiting the castle. Deriving its name from its three wells: Kisshosui, Shojosui and Yoryusui, the temple was established as early as 770 A.D. by a Chinese Buddhist monk. Once you pass through the temple’s main gate you witness the 231 steps leading up to temple’s main building and the cherry blossom trees covering its hillside.
The over 500 trees scattered within the temple’s grounds truly come to view after you have made your way up the stairs, along with a view of Wakayama and its coastline. As the second temple on the Saikoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage route, Kimiidera tends to attracts visitors throughout the year and without a doubt all of them will take a moment on their journey to appreciate the sheer beauty of the scenery behind them.
Access, opening hours and admission fee
From Shin-Osaka Station Wakayama is about 1 hour by JR Limited Express Kuroshio. From Wakayama Station you can either take a 5-minute bus to Koen-mae or a 20-minute walk to Wakayama Castle.
While the castle grounds remain open for the public throughout the day as they also function as a park, the castle itself is open from 9:00 to 16:30 with a last entry half an hour before closing time. There is also a 350 yen admission fee to enter the castle.
Kimiidera is located 15 minutes from JR Kimiidera Station, which is the second stop on the JR Kisei Line leaving from JR Wakayama Station, but it is just as easy to walk there from the castle in about 35 minutes as JR Wakayama Station is mid-way along the route. The temple is open from 8:00 to 17:00 with an admission fee of 200 yen for adults and 100 yen for children and seniors.